MUMBAI: The Ministry of Home Affairs on Tuesday notified new land laws for the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir(J&K). This makes it possible for any Indian citizen to buy land in the region, sparking fears among locals as it was earlier meant only for permanent residents under Article 370.
The Act makes it mandatory for each state and UT to set up its own real estate regulator and frame rules to govern the functioning of the regulator. In a gazette notification, the Centre omitted the phrase “permanent resident of the state” from Section 17 of the Jammu and Kashmir Development Act, which deals with disposal of the land in the UT.
“With immediate effect, the Acts mentioned in the schedule to this order shall, until repealed or amended by a competent legislature or other competent authority, have an effect, subject to the adaptations and modifications directed by the said schedule, or if it is so directed, shall stand repealed,” said the order.
The sale and ownership of land has been a fractious political issue in the former state. The fresh notifications also allow for spouses of individuals who become domiciles to be deemed as domiciles, further liberalising the criteria for acquiring residency permits in the UT.
The MHA has revoked 12 state laws while another 26 have been adapted with changes or substitutes. Laws which are repealed as a whole include the Jammu and Kashmir Alienation of Land Act, Jammu and Kashmir Big Landed Estates Abolition Act, Jammu and Kashmir Common Lands (Regulation) Act 1956, Jammu and Kashmir Consolidation of Holdings Act 1962, Jammu and Kashmir Right of Prior Purchase Act, and the Jammu and Kashmir Utilization of Lands Act.
“The changes represent the operational aspect of the big measure taken in August last year,” said Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a Kashmiri political analyst. “They have taken the repealing of Article 370 and 35-A to its logical conclusion. It was bound to happen. The order is very long. It will take time even for experts to parse through it before they finally wrap their minds around the kind of alteration that has been wrought. But prima facie, the changes enunciated in the order seem to correspond to the larger objectives being plotted with respect to the demographics of J&K.”
The latest order also empowers the government to declare any area in J&K as ‘strategic’ and intended for the direct operational and training requirement of the armed forces at the behest of an army officer of or above the rank of a corps commander.
If all of this is part of the BJP’s long-standing agenda of ending J&K’s ‘special status’, there is another change that many in the rest of India may not realise the significance of: the government’s order has also abolished the historic Big Land Estate Abolition Act, 1950 – under whose aegis the former state witnessed the radical redistribution of land which paved way for rural prosperity and ended landlordism in J&K.
The fresh enactments have provoked anger in the Union Territory, where suspicions abound that the Centre is gradually disempowering the local population and consolidating control through untrammeled executive power. For more than two years now, J&K has been without an elected government. All the changes being introduced in the UT have been steamrolled by Centre rather than being legislated by elected representatives of the people.